Having lost his Buick and Dodge franchises during the domestic auto makers' battle for survival, World War II combat veteran Marvin Tamaroff has turned philosophical about his survivability as an import car dealer in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, MI.
Still a daily presence at the Honda and Nissan stores along busy Telegraph Rd.'s auto row, which he spearheaded, Tamaroff, age 83, has chalked up 40 years as a franchised dealer.
He admittedly endured periods of bitterness in recent years. First he lost his charter Buick franchise in 2007 when General Motors Co. insisted it go to a neighboring Pontiac-GMC dealer, Al Moran, as part of a bundled-brands strategy.
This year, as Chrysler LLC cut dealers and consolidated stores, Tamaroff lost his Dodge store to another neighbor, Dan Frost, a high-volume Chrysler-Jeep dealer.
He thanks his “lucky stars” for taking initial risks in acquiring Honda and Nissan brand franchises in the 1970s.
“These were the same stars that enabled me to endure the Battle of the Bulge in the U.S. Army in late 1944 and six months in a German prison camp in 1945,” he says.
Tamaroff says that experience gave him the determination to succeed in the used-car business and then as a new-car dealer.
“I lived through forced marches and meals consisting of a slice of bread and watery soup as a prisoner of war. There aren't too many World War II veterans left among active dealers, but I think they'd feel the same about its impact.”
A Detroit native, Tamaroff earned a degree in mechanical engineering at the General Motors Institute in 1949, but turned to used cars after deciding on a sales career.
He landed a Buick franchise with $64,000 and a GM loan, only to encounter resistance from a dealership-leery Southfield city government when he wanted to open a new-car store on Telegraph near Twelve Mile, known locally as “Tel-Twelve, where many dealerships now are clustered.
The dealership community expansion occurred after Tamaroff Buick finally opened in 1969. Subsequent neighbors around that time included auto mogul Roger Penske's Chevrolet store; Avis Ford; Hoot McInerney's Star Lincoln-Mercury, and George Glassman's Oldsmobile, Hyundai, Kia and Saab stores.
“Marv's truly an entrepreneur,” Southfield Chamber of Commerce chief Ed Powers says. “He helped turn a corner of this city into a retail magnet. Some said it was crazy at the time, but visionaries often are seen as a little crazy.”
Tamaroff and his wife Claire have been married for more than 50 years. Son Jeffrey entered the family business early on, opening Jeffrey Honda, Acura, Buick and Nissan stores across town in the Detroit suburb of Roseville.
Powers says the elder Tamaroff never has voiced a “negative remark.” Yet he did fire off a letter to Detroit newspapers expressing anger over losing his Dodge store.
The ire is abating. Tamaroff tells Ward's he'd rather “let bygones be bygones,” in the hope that GM and Chrysler survive life after bankruptcy.